PN04/30: AUGUST SPACE DIGEST
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during August. It has been written in order to assist the media in planning and researching future stories related to space science and astronomy, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Dates and times may be subject to change.
2 AUGUST: MESSENGER TO MERCURY
NASA's first expedition to Mercury in 30 years starts in August with the launch of the MESSENGER spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida aboard a Delta 2 launch vehicle.
MESSENGER will conduct an in-depth study of Mercury, the least explored of the terrestrial ("rocky") planets that also include Venus, Earth and Mars. One of its main tasks will be to unveil the secrets of the hemisphere that was hidden from the cameras of Mariner 10 - the only previous spacecraft to visit Mercury.
Launch is currently scheduled for 2:16 a.m. EDT (07:16 BST) on 2 August, the first day of a 13-day launch period. However, the launch window only lasts for 12 seconds each day because of the very tight requirements for spacecraft velocity and navigation.
MESSENGER's voyage includes a single gravity-assist flyby of Earth in 2005, followed by two encounters with Venus in 2006 and 2007, then three flybys of Mercury in 2008 and 2009. It will eventually enter a near-polar orbit around the mysterious planet in March 2011.
The spacecraft will help to fill in one of the last major gaps in our knowledge of the inner Solar System and help us to understand the forces that shaped planets like our own. During the mission, it will map the entire planet, filling in the blanks from Mariner 10's reconnaissance, and send back information about Mercury's surface composition, tenuous atmosphere and surprisingly strong magnetic field.
It may also help to answer such outstanding questions as: Why is Mercury mostly made of iron? Why is it the only inner planet besides Earth with a global magnetic field? How can the planet closest to the Sun, with daytime temperatures near 450 degrees Celsius, have what appears to be ice in its polar craters?
11 AUGUST: UK SPACE MEDICINE DAY, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER MEDICAL SCHOOL
The subject of Space Medicine allows us to learn more about how the human body adapts to different environments. In doing this, it allows us to learn more about human physiology. Many of the health problems astronauts suffer from in space have parallels down on Earth and so Space Medicine interests Earth-based doctors a great deal. It has far-reaching applications from telemedicine to the hospital bedside.
This national conference on Space Medicine will consist of lectures and interactive displays on UK Space Medicine delivered by leading UK space experts. This is an opportunity for medical students and health professionals with an interest in this exciting and relatively new field of medicine to share their knowledge and discuss the latest advances.
1-20 AUGUST: THE PERSEIDS ARE COMING
The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming, and forecasters say it could be unusually good.
The shower begins gently in mid-July when Earth enters the outskirts of a cloud of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Dust-sized meteoroids hitting the atmosphere will streak across the night sky, only a few each night at first, but increasing numbers as the shower develops. By 12 August, when the shower peaks, sky watchers can expect to see dozens, possibly even hundreds, of meteors per hour.
This is a good year to look for Perseids, since the Moon is new in mid- August and there will be no moonlight to spoil the show. Some astronomers also predict an extra surge of meteors on 11 August, in addition to the usual peaks on 12 and 13 August. This additional surge is associated with a filament of comet dust drifting across Earth's orbit. The ribbon of material is relatively young, having boiled off the comet in 1862.
If predictions are correct, Earth will plough through the filament on Wednesday, 11 August at 22:00 BST. This will produce a surge of mostly faint meteors over Europe and Asia. Observers might see as many as 200 shooting stars per hour if they are able to avoid city lights.
The main Perseid shower is noted for its abundant bright meteors and long luminous trails. Observers may see up to one meteor per minute before dawn, when the constellation of Perseus (from which they seem to come) is high in the eastern sky.
British Astronomical Association - http://www.britastro.org/news/items/2004014.html
17 AUGUST: VENUS VISION
The planet Venus will dominate the early morning sky during August, outshining all of the stars around it. By mid-month, Perseid watchers will be unable to miss Venus as it rises in the west around 02:00 BST - over three hours ahead of the Sun. Venus reaches greatest elongation (angular distance from the Sun) on 17 August, when it will be 46 degrees west of the Sun. In a small telescope it will then appear half illuminated - resembling a "first quarter" Moon.
20 - 22 AUGUST: SOLAR ECLIPSE CONFERENCE (SEC2004),
OPEN UNIVERSITY, MILTON KEYNES.
The main objective of the international Solar Eclipse Conference 2004 (SEC2004) is to bring together professionals and amateurs to discuss all aspects of solar eclipses. Two days of lectures will be given in each of the following disciplines: predictions, mathematics, solar physics, weather forecasting, eye safety, diameter measuring, edge and central, and ancient eclipse research. Both past and future solar eclipses will be discussed, as well as the 2004 transit of Venus.
Date: 30th July 2004
Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer.